Movie Review - Arbitrage

Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki creates a character and a story that's loosely based on Bernie Madoff but only Jarecki's protagonist isn't a sociopath or isn't as villainous. His protagonist also isn't a Gordon Gecko from Wall Street (1987). This film has echoes of that Oliver Stone movie, as well as echoes of Margin Call (2011), but it isn't as much of a chamber piece. Arbitrage is a more thrilling ride. It's more exciting. Anchored by a great role that Richard Gere inhabits, this film is essentially one amazing, acting scene after another, all tied together wondrously. The movie is a triumph of its entire cast, built on the great script and guidance of Jarecki. It's one of the best movies of 2012.

Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a wealthy businessman in Manhattan who is referred to as the Oracle of Gracie Square. He celebrates his 60th birthday at the film's opening. He comes home to his wife, adult children and grand kids. It's a happy scene at night, but almost immediately later there are undercurrents that aren't good that rise to destroy the illusion of that happy scene.

Brit Marling (Sound of My Voice and Another Earth) plays Miller's daughter, Brooke, an executive at her father's company. She initially asks why he's decided to sell the company. On paper, the company is one of the most successful investment firms ever. At first, she's confused at his actions, but after looking at the accounting, she perhaps starts to question the company's solvency.

Susan Sarandon plays Ellen, Miller's wife who perhaps knows the answers to the questions that Brooke starts to raise. She still might be in the dark. Sarandon plays it either way at the beginning, especially when Miller says he has to leave his own birthday in the middle of the night.

Nate Parker (Pride and The Great Debaters) plays Jimmy Grant, a young black man who comes to the aid of Miller in a crucial moment. He then becomes ensnared in a larger scheme that involves a person getting killed. Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs and Funny Games) plays Michael Bryer, the tough and zealous New York detective who is investigating that person's death.

Watching all five of these actors go at each other and play their parts in this movie is nothing short of fantastic. It's better than top notch. It's incredible. It engaged me. It pulled me into the story and the incidents and never let me go, and I loved it.

Given the 2008 financial crisis, we've seen various films tackle it. The Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job (2010) gave us a straight-forward lesson with clear bad guys. Margin Call doesn't explain what a margin call is but through the actions shows us. Arbitrage doesn't spell out what that word means either. What Miller attempts to pull off, his whole financial deal, shows you, and I'm glad the film doesn't spell those things out.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, brief violent images and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.


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